As we near the end of the spring quarter, I wanted to share a recent interview I did for the Washington Higher Education Sustainability Coalition (WAHESC) newsletter. For many, the WAHESC network is a great place to meet other students, faculty and staff working on advancing sustainability in higher ed in our state.
WAHESC Member Spotlight: Claudia Frere-Anderson, Sustainability Director, University of Washington
What do you see as our biggest challenge in sustainability work?
I think our biggest challenge in this field is keeping focused amidst a lot of uncertainty facing higher education and our country’s national policy towards climate change. I personally try and limit the amount of media and news I take in each day so I don’t get distracted and lose momentum. It’s easy nowadays to feel daunted by the amount of work that needs to be done, particularly since college sustainability offices are still grounding ourselves within the academy and providing the ‘business case’ to central administration. I hope this doesn’t discourage us in our collective work, but impel us to dig our heels into being part of this current phenomenon with changing how we teach, research and manage our physical assets and resources.
For those of us who are championing the financial (organizational) value of sustainability, we know that our projects and activities are inter-connected, so how can we possibly list out priorities when the operational and educational impacts are intertwined? So could this be the golden egg? We have the potential to significantly address our operational goals through our academic mission, and many are already doing it. Why not leverage this opportunity, accelerate our on-campus experiments and contribute to finding solutions to combat climate change faster and spread information to a wider audience more quickly.
Finally, I think a lot of sustainability managers and coordinators are under a lot of pressure and can often feel isolated from their organizations. I think we are fortunate to have a network like WAHESC that is about a community of learners, story tellers, leaders, creators and motivators!
What is your advice for people just getting into sustainability work?
First, I recommend finding good mentors and professional peers that you can connect with. It is really important to be with others who share similar perspectives (and challenges) so you don’t feel isolated in your work. In fact, you are carrying a pretty cool responsibility of being your organization’s 'Sustainability Expert' looked upon as the knowledge center on the broad sustainability areas and topics, and who knows how to navigate the system! Second, remember to celebrate accomplishments. Take time to recognize small steps along with the big wins. Last but not least, invest in people. Remember your allies and collaborators because this work is not in isolation of the larger higher education community on campus and off campus.
What is the most fun you’ve had in sustainability work?
This is a tough one to answer. I feel fortunate to do a job that I love. Each day is unique, always full of surprises because we are on a campus filled with a lot of intellectual capital, curiosity, interests, advocacy and passion towards making our planet better. Picking one memory that was most fun is tricky, so I’d say that talking with and hanging out with my peers always puts a smile on my face and lifts up my spirits!
WAHESC is partnering with its Oregon counterpart to host the Washington & Oregon Higher Education Sustainability Conference (WOHESC) at Portland State University in February 2018. The conference is currently seeking speakers and session proposals (the deadline for submissions is July 17). Learn more at wohesc.org.